Pennsylvania GOP closes book on transit-funding issue

| 11/23/2004

Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly say they won’t return to the capitol to discuss the state’s cash-strapped public transit systems.

Gov. Ed Rendell has urged lawmakers to come back because the two-year session isn’t required to end until Nov. 30 and he’s unhappy with a stopgap-funding bill awaiting his signature.

The House and Senate both recessed early Sunday, Nov. 21, without acting on a plan backed by the governor to hike fees on motorists to provide $110 million for Pittsburgh’s Port Authority, Philadelphia’s transit authority and smaller transit agencies across the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, the plan included higher taxes on tires and car rentals as well as a new $2 sticker fee for vehicles that pass emissions tests.

In addition to the emissions-sticker fee, the plan would bump the fee for requesting driving records from $5 to $12; double the state’s fee on car rentals from $2 to $4; and triple the surcharge on new tires from $1 to $3.

Instead, lawmakers approved a plan favored by Republicans to use $6 million of existing state funding for rural and small-city public transit systems.

Republican Senate staffer Mike Long told The Associated Press that GOP leaders didn’t want to raise taxes.

To aid the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia agencies – where officials say they are facing deficits in 2005 of $63 million and $30 million, respectively – Republicans suggested Rendell seek a federal waiver to redirect $54 million in available federal highway funds.

Rendell has opposed the Republicans’ proposal and said using federal money for mass transit in the state’s two biggest metropolitan areas would divert funding from highway and bridge projects. According to The AP, Rendell could call for a special session on mass transit if lawmakers don’t return by Nov. 30.